Sidelined by injury and pushed out of the spotlight by the race to replace him, Mayor Thomas M. Menino stormed back into public view this week with characteristic bully pulpit belligerence, sending a not-so-subtle message that even as he slides into his final days in office, he remains fully in charge.
Thundering from a podium and jabbing the air with his hand, he looked like the furious Menino of old, not a lame duck readying for retirement.
By denouncing the city’s striking bus drivers on several live televised press conferences, then threatening a suit in federal court, Menino steamrolled over the rhetoric of the current campaign and reminded voters of the enormous power he has wielded for 20 years — and will continue to wield until Jan. 6.
“He was not going as quietly into that good night as we thought he may have,” said Ed Jesser, a longtime adviser. “Just because he’s at the end of his mayoralty, he’s not going to stop being the mayor. He is the mayor. And he’s the one who has to do something about it. Everyone else can only talk about it.”
Menino took the kind of hard line against the bus drivers that is all too familiar to those who have crossed him during his long tenure at City Hall. In 2009, he railed against the organizers of the Tall Ships festival over a dispute related to security costs, and last year he vowed to prevent Chick-Fil-A from opening in Boston because its president opposes same-sex marriage.
“He’s angry, and when he’s angry, it isn’t like he keeps it a secret,” Jesser said.
But the city has not seen that forceful version of Menino in months. The mayor, who made his reputation by mingling at block parties and munching at banquets, has most recently appeared in public leaning on a cane, as a seemingly endless string of injuries and illnesses forced him to cut back his breakneck schedule.
The campaign to replace him has also relegated him to the margins. With their plans to make safer streets, better schools, and a livelier nightlife, John R. Connolly and Martin J. Walsh have offered voters a vision of a city greater than the one Menino has built. And their contest has overshadowed the daily grindings at City Hall, which has begun focusing on ensuring a smooth transition of power.
But then on Monday a 5 a.m., phone call woke Menino at his home in Readville. The city’s school bus drivers had walked off the job, and thousands of children were going to be stranded at bus stops and at home. Menino, who likes to be kept apprised of even the most minor shifts in neighborhood politics, was incensed at the surprise rebellion.
“I’m extremely angry,” he said, appearing hours later at a press conference. “Our young people should not be hurt because of selfish people who only want to cause disruption in our city.”
Connolly and Walsh joined the mayor in denouncing the strike, but it was Menino who had the authority to send police officers to ferry children to school and to seek a court injunction against the drivers
If anyone was thinking they could step out of line just because he was preparing to leave office, “he’s saying, ‘No. Don’t think that for a minute,’ ” said Judith Kurland, a former chief of staff. “The message was, ‘You’re not going to get away this,’ and the full force of the city’s power to contest this, and to punish people who thought they could get away with this, could be brought to bear.”
Michael Levenson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @mlevenson.